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Before the opening credits or film title appear, a fat man, later identified as the assassin, "Peter Banat," places a silencer on his gun as a broken phonograph record playing "C'est mon couer" is heard on the soundtrack. According to pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, RKO paid $10,000 in frozen British funds for the rights to English author Eric Ambler's novel. An April 1941 news item notes that Ben Hecht was slated to script the film and David Hempstead to produce. A February 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Michele Morgan was to star and Robert Stevenson to direct. Hempstead originally wanted Fred Astaire to play the lead, but later considered Robert Montgomery and Fred MacMurray. By early July 1941, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, studio chief George J. Schaefer was trying to convince Orson Welles to act in and direct the film, but Welles was wavering between working on this film and Louisiana Hayride, a story about Huey Long, which was never made. By mid-July 1941, Hollywood Reporter news items identified Journey into Fear as an Orson Welles project, with Welles slated to produce and direct under his Mercury Productions banner. Ellis St. Joseph and Richard Collins were to write the script for the film, which now was to star Joseph Cotten, who, according to Hollywood Reporter, was being groomed for stardom after his appearance in Citizen Kane . The picture was to fulfill part of Welles's four-picture commitment to RKO. A September 1941 tentative shooting schedule contained in the RKO Archive Script Files at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library lists Welles as director, but by the time the production began in January 1942, Norman Foster was credited as director. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, by late January 1942, Welles's part in the film had been condensed to three to four days of intensive filming so that he could leave for Brazil on 5 February to begin production on It's All True. While rushing to finish this film, Welles was also completing The Magnificent Ambersons . In a modern interview, Welles stated that because he was in a hurry to leave for South America, the ledge sequence at the end of the film was directed by whomever was closest to the camera. Welles said, "For the first five sequences, I was on the set and decided the angles; from then on, I often said where to put the camera and described the framing, made light tests....I designed the film but can't properly be called the director." A news item in Hollywood Reporter adds that Welles also worked on the script with Joseph Cotten, but Welles is not credited onscreen for his contribution.
On March 6, 1942, six days before production was completed, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the raw footage was to be flown to Rio de Janiero for Welles to edit. According to another Hollywood Reporter item, the film was in the final dubbing and editing stage by May 1942, under the supervision of Jack Moss, Welles's Mercury Productions partner. Moss also played the role of "Banat" in the film. By June 1942, however, George J. Schaefer, the studio head who brought Welles to Hollywood, had been ousted and replaced by Charles Koerner, a pragmatic theater manager who, according to the New York Times, stressed "showmanship rather than genius." By the end of June 1942, the Koerner regime notified Welles that his contract with the studio had been terminated and he was to return from Brazil. In early July 1942, a news item in Hollywood Reporter reported that the studio had confiscated Journey into Fear, which was now being edited "without the benefit of those who worked on the picture." In late Aug, according to another Hollywood Reporter news item, the studio decided to delay the release of the picture after the critics panned it at a tradeshow. A New York Times article adds that as part of his final settlement with the studio, Welles agreed to recut the last reel and film some additional scenes. Materials contained in the Script Files reveal that Welles added Cotten's voice-over scenes at the beginning and end of the picture and devised the pre-credit sequence.
According to an article in New York Times and an unidentified contemporary source in the AMPAS production files, several of the actors in the film were employees of Mercury Productions. Robert Meltzer, who played the ship's captain, was a writer at Mercury. Shifra Haran, who played "Mrs. Haller," was Welles's personal secretary. Herb Drake and Bill Roberts, who played the ship's stewards, worked in Mercury's publicity department, and Welles's chauffeur, Eddie Howard, appeared in a bit role. Modern sources credit George J. Schaefer as the film's executive producer. In 1976, a Canadian production company produced another version of Ambler's novel, directed by Daniel Mann and starring Sam Waterston, Zero Mostel and Yvette Mimieux. According to an article in Los Angeles Times, in 1966, Ambler was working on a television series based on his book to be produced by Joan Harrison and starring Jeff Hunter. That series was never made.